COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — With student athletes’ academic performance as the only factor, three out of four NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament No. 1 seeds would be upset in the first round — and No. 16 seed Mt. St. Mary’s, a small private university in Frederick County, Maryland, would make the Elite Eight.
Brackets are sufficiently busted by using a men’s basketball team’s 2016 Federal Graduation Rate — which measures the percentage of the 2009 recruiting class that graduated within 6 years — rather than its athletic chops to determine who moves on in the Big Dance.
Among top-seeded teams, only the University of Kansas makes it past the Round of 64, and No. 2-seeded Duke is the only likely national title contender to reach the Final Four when academics are the qualifier. Unbeatable No. 12 seed Princeton would cut down the nets in Phoenix.
A CNS analysis of seeding and Federal Graduation rate yields a pretty odd March Madness bracket filled with first-round upsets.
This analysis also neglects already-determined “First Four” results, although two of the already-determined winners (Mt. St. Mary’s and No. 11-seed Kansas State) match the academic results by coincidence.
The statistic used for main comparison is the Federal Graduation Rate, a figure that directly measures how much of an entering class graduates within 6 years, rather than the NCAA’s “Graduation Success Rate.”
The Graduation Success Rate better accounts for student athletes who transfer. But it can obfuscate true academic success at schools with powerhouse athletic programs, since it does not penalize schools “for an athlete who leaves school in good academic standing,” according to a 2011 Athletic Business magazine article.
In cases where schools tied based on Federal Graduation Rate, the school with the higher U.S. News & World Report “National Universities” ranking moved on in this analysis, with schools not ranked on the list losing by default.
In this analysis, Graduation Success Rate was only used for Princeton University, which, along with the rest of the Ivy League, does not supply Federal Graduation Rate data. (Even if the inferior statistic had been used for all schools, Princeton would still have won by tiebreaker, as it is ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report.)